(Source: Gorodenkoff – adobestock)
Whether in the domestic market or at the edge of space, modern electronic equipment communicates at an unprecedented rate. The Internet of Things (IoT) allows devices to share data with each other, providing real-time monitoring and the ability to control remote equipment. High-speed connectors and their associated cabling are the nervous system, providing pathways for the massive volume of signals.
The Evolution of High-Speed
Early experiments with high-speed transmission used coaxial cables. The first patent was in the 1880s; by the 1920s it was the backbone of the telecommunications network. Coaxial cable could carry the signal speeds required for voice and text communication—so as computer networks developed, coaxial cable was the obvious choice.
Coaxial cables were replaced by twisted pair cables due to an increase in data rates and the need for more connections. Ethernet networks moved to a structured wiring solution. Twisted pairs became the new standard while BNC connectors gave way to multi-pin modular connectors. 100Mbps data transfer rates were considered high during this time.
Breaking the 10Gbps Barrier
In modern communications, 100Mbps is low speed. In the era of high-speed internet, wireless communications and video streaming, data rates of 6Gbps are commonplace. 5G cellular networks enable hand-held devices to communicate more than 10Gbps.
Wireless networks are capable of the same communication speeds as traditional wired networks. Connectors within the network must deliver high-speed performance, on the devices themselves and in the data centers and base stations that are crucial to the modern communications network (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Modern high-speed communications center in a controlled environment (Source: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com)
High-Speed Challenges – Signal Integrity
As higher data rates become common, the quality and accuracy of the data transmitted is vital. Connector designers work hard to ensure Signal integrity (SI) is maintained. As electrical signals are transmitted over cable and through connectors, comparing signal loss from origin to target gives a measure of SI. Many factors (internal and external) can affect SI. For instance, engineers need to be aware of the effects of electromagnetic interference (EMI) on the quality of signals carried through the connector system.
As data rates increase, there is also a need for smaller connections with higher pin counts, so a finer pitch is needed. The signal trace length on printed circuit boards and the design of the cables become a crucial issue. Increased pin counts and reduced spacing increase the risk of crosstalk—the interference of a signal within one conductor from its neighbor. Designers need connectors that are manufactured to preserve the signal integrity of high-speed signals (Figure 2).
Figure 2: High-speed wired communications on the factory floor (Source: NavinTar/Shutterstock.com)
Connectors Enabling High-Speed Computing and Communications
Every aspect of modern technology benefits from the high-speed revolution. Smartphones dominate the consumer world in both telecommunications and personal computing, aided by the introduction of 5G technology.
More importantly, the industrial market has embraced high-speed communications to create the smart factory and new ways to optimize the manufacturing environment.
Field deployments of high-speed communication systems are also taking place outside the factory floor. Automotive, aerospace, and defense systems rely heavily on this technology for navigation, communications, and data sharing. These applications require connectors that can withstand shock, vibration, and harsh environments.
Technologies and Solutions
Many high-speed connectors employed in fixed installations, such as data centers and mobile base stations, are not designed with the reliability needed for field use. Creating connectors for these demanding applications requires an in-depth understanding of harsh environment conditions.
The new generation of high-speed connectors will use established features for preserving signal integrity—such as differential pairs, shielding, and ground-planes—but will employ advanced manufacturing techniques. Machined contacts are common in connectors for high-vibration applications, giving excellent conductivity and mechanical stability. Connector housings use high-performance polymers for superior strength (Figure 3).
Figure 3: The next-generation high-speed connectors are designed to preserve signal integrity and maintain mechanical stability. (Source: Harwin)
Harwin and High-Speed Connectivity
Harwin supply multi-pole connectors of the highest quality for service in many different applications across the globe. Already well-versed in the requirements of reliable connector products, Harwin is applying its knowledge to a range of high-speed connection solutions for demanding applications. By leveraging expertise in high-performance products, Harwin has created a small and lightweight high-speed connector family for the next generation of equipment. Further expansion in this area of connectivity is already scheduled, so keep watching for more additions to the range.
Recent advances in high-speed communications provide opportunities across a wide range of industries. In these demanding applications, legacy connectivity solutions may not meet the data rate requirements, so solutions that will offer superior performance are needed. Harwin is committed to developing cutting-edge connectivity products that help design engineers in all industries connect with confidence.
Wendy Jane Preston, Senior Technical Author, Harwin
Wendy has worked for Harwin since 1995. Her current role in Marketing includes writing informative articles for publication on Harwin.com and beyond, creating technical and product launch documentation to support social media and Sales channels.
During her time with Harwin, Wendy’s first role as a Design Engineer saw her responsible for developing custom and standard products including Datamate J-Tek and Mix-Tek connectors. She has also held Technical Support and Legislation Officer roles at the company. She holds a BEng (Hons) degree in Manufacturing Engineering from Brunel University.